Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Posted by nliakos on October 20, 2014

by Reza Aslan (Random House 2013)

This is the book I have wanted to read for many years: a book that puts the religious narrative(s) into a historical context. Jesus, Paul, James, Masada, the Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire, the apostles, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Q material, the Bible, Pilate and Herod, and much, much more, all contextualized and explained clearly. Reza Aslan writes forcefully about what we know, what we can reasonably speculate about, what we might hazard a guess about, and what is pure fabrication. When the gospels contradict each other, he muses as to why that is and what it might mean. He cites numerous sources, some modern and others 2,000 years old, to back up his thesis: that the Jesus Christ worshipped by Christians today has little in common with Jesus of Nazareth–the former a god, the latter a man–an uneducated laborer, a revolutionary, and one of a plethora of failed messiahs that lived and died violent deaths around that time (but the only one, Aslan points out, that “would not be forgotten”). As I have long believed, it was Paul (a Jew who apparently came to hate Jews) who created and spread the Christian religion. (Aslan points out that “more than half of the twenty-seven books that now make up the New Testament are either by or about Paul.” p. 215) What Jesus preached, and what his brother James (the Just) preached after him, is completely different from what Paul preached–but Jesus and James were preaching to other Jews, whereas Paul preached to Gentiles, facilitating the spread of his doctrines among the majority of peoples who knew nothing of the Torah and Jewish laws and customs and so were unable to recognize that much of what Paul was preaching would have been anathema to Jesus.  Aslan also shows how Christian anti-Semitism was born after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and historical events were changed to absolve the Romans of responsibility for Jesus’ death–and cast the blame on the Jews. Aslan shows how absurd these allegations actually are.

I learned so much from reading this book! I am looking forward to reading more of Reza Aslan, like Muslims and Jews in America, Beyond Fundamentalism, and No god but God.

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